Disconnecting the Dots

October 21st, 2013
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There were two articles in today's Star-Advertiser (Oct. 21) dealing with unrelated beach and ocean problems that should be connected: regulation of commercial use of  our oceans, and control over what can or cannot be done with our shorelines. But if you read those two stories back-to-back, you'll start to get a headache trying to track all the federal, state and county agencies that have overlapping responsibilities. For instance, who is responsible for addressing beach erosion? Under Hawaii's convoluted system, there is split jurisdiction that is literally based on a shifting high water mark -- and both the State and counties often cite the murky lines of demarcation as excuses to not do anything about the very real threat of rising sea levels and ongoing shoreline management issues.

Ever since I got involved with the public beach access movement a few years ago, I have experienced firsthand the futility of attempting to get State or county action on protecting beach rights of way and doing something about shoreline "creep" by property owners on Oahu, who are rebuilding oceanfront structures closer to the sea (I can't call them "homes" because they look more like mini-hotels). I suggest those"homeowners" (often out-of-state investors) take a good look at what's happening on the North Shore before they decide to spit in Mother Nature's face and erect mansions as close as legally possible to the sea.

Anyhow, in today's beach erosion article about "regulatory woes" the reporter got some good quotes from Dolan Eversole, who works for Sea Grant and has done a lot of studies about erosion and shoreline management options. His suggestion is there should be a single coastal commission. It would have authority over the shoreline and coastal waters, and eliminate split jurisdiction. Makes sense, right? Except the article then goes on to quote various people from the existing agencies/departments that are currently not doing a very good job of addressing longstanding problems, and of course, those people say a coastal commission would be a bad idea because it could add another layer of bureaucracy. Um,  I think they missed the point. THEY are the added layers that need to be streamlined.

Okay, I'm not sure if the reporter phrased the question in the wrong way, or these government employees are simply too dense to understand the concept -- a coastal commission isn't meant to be an "added" layer of anything. It would be done to eliminate or consolidate a myriad of departments, agencies and ad hoc "advisory" groups that have been meeting for years and years, in order to simplify the regulatory process. It would create a single office that looks at the big picture from molasses spills to beach access and whether commercial kayak operations can be allowed on beaches in Hawaii. But if you broach the subject with a government lifer, all they will see is a threat to their individual jobs and benefits. Rarely will you ever hear a government worker admit their job or department does stuff that is redundant or could be eliminated to save taxpayer money, while making things more efficient.

And this is why we wind up with people who distrust government or say they want to dismantle Big Government... until their homes are threatened by beach erosion, commercial development or global climate change, and all of a sudden those same people are squawking that government isn't doing enough. The real problem though, is how government does things. They manage from crisis to crisis, instead of coming up with a long-range plan, then sticking to it.

BTW, in 2009 I asked Rep. Chris Lee to introduce a proposal for a joint State and counties task force to consider creating a Hawaii Coastal Commission. At that time, testifying against the proposal before State representatives was Sam Lemmo (DLNR) and Chip Fletcher, a UH researcher who is quoted as now saying an "overall agency" to take charge of coastal land use should be "studied." Apparently they thought the DLNR was doing just fine on its own. When will all these different factions start connecting the dots, and see that the ocean and beaches need to be treated as Hawaii's most valuable resource -- not as some lines on a map or organizational flow chart to be divvied up among the DLNR, CZM, MACZAC, DPP, EPA, even DOT (yeah, the molasses spill was the Dept. of Transportation's jurisdiction, believe it or not), along with each island's county councils and zoning/planning/parks departments. It's a shame because there are many well-meaning people trying to do their jobs... except they're like a bunch of people on a canoe, each paddling in different directions.

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